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Robert Harbin's books on origami and magic

Updated: Oct 21, 2023

Robert Harbin (1909-1978) was a hugely important figure in the worlds of both origami and magic, and really needs no introduction from me as plenty has been written about him elsewhere, including online. My idea here was simply to present some of his books devoted to these two subjects. Most will be familiar to anyone reading this blog, but it's not often that you get to see them all at once in the same place, especially since some are quite hard to find nowadays.

Origami books

The only book here that will probably not be familiar is the Japanese edition of Harbin's seminal work Paper Magic (1956). I was very fortunate to find this at Makoto Yamaguchi's Gallery Origami House shop in Tokyo during my visit to Japan in 1989. There are a couple of points of interest here:

  • Paper Magic has the distinction of being the first Western origami book to be translated into Japanese, no doubt owing to its important role in promoting origami in the West.

  • The name "Robert Harbin" appears transcribed in katakana on the cover, but the inside title page includes the English title and gives the author as Ned Williams (Harbin's real name).

  • The Japanese title is Origami dokuhon. I believe dokuhon (meaning "reader" or "reading book") is quite common in Japanese book titles, but it does seem a little odd and perhaps surprising that Akira Yoshizawa's first major origami book, published in 1957, was also called Origami dokuhon.

Paper Folding Fun (1960) and Party Lines (1963) don't actually contain a great deal of origami, but are full of all sorts of wonderful tricks and stunts with paper and other objects.

Magic books

Harbin was a brilliantly original creator of magic effects and methods, especially in the field of stage magic and illusions, but he didn't actually write a lot of magic books himself. Many of his ideas were published in the weekly magic magazine Abracadabra and later compiled into a single volume as Harbincadabra (1979). This was reissued in 2005 along with reprints of his earlier work as a two-volume set entitled Harbin x 2.

His first book was Something New in Magic (1928), written under his real name of Ned Williams. How to Be a Wizard (1957) and How to Be a Conjuror (1968) are identical in content, and Illustrated Teach Yourself Magic (1976) is largely the same but with colour photos and a few different tricks.


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